Sunday, 7 June 2015

A look at Penmaen West Quarry

 I always look forward to driving along the A55 from Bangor to Conwy; while it is highly dangerous at times, depending on how late the HGV's are off the ferry at Holyhead, it also rewards with some breathtaking vistas. To seaward, there are views of the Ormes and of Penmon Point on Anglesey, but it is to landward that my attention always wanders. The magnificent remains of the Penmaenmawr inclines and drumhouses cover the headland like weathered veins of mineral on a pebble..for years I've wondered about taking a closer look at them.

So, finally, we pitched up at the foot of the Hanson Aggregates access road above Llanfairfechan, parked the truck and set off along the footpath that eventually, after many dog-legs and climbs, reaches the plateau of the mountain. Incidentally, I know it isn't a mountain any more, thanks to the quarry, but it was once and I am still blooming well going to refer to it as one. Call me a traditionalist if you like. The weather forecast was for a brilliantly sunny day, which is probably why after half an hour's walking we found ourselves crouching beside a dry-stone dyke, sheltering from a strong westerly inundation of rain. I almost hadn't packed the waterproofs that morning, but Petra had insisted we brought them. 'Nuff said. Then a thick mist descended (it certainly felt like mountain mist...) forcing us further behind the wall and into an early and soggy attack on the cheese and onion pasties we'd bought in Porthmadog that morning.

  As if guided by some special equine radar, two wild horses appeared magically out of the mist, gazing in a very dignified way at our early lunch. Pastry wouldn't go down well with the equine digestion and I didn't have any apples or polo mints but our new friends didn't seem too put out. I did have some raisins, but I didn't want to risk those- the horsey high spirits that ensued the last time are still a worrying memory. Eventually the rain eased and, accompanied for a while with a distinguished escort, we branched out up the steep path to the quarry, leaving the North Wales path as it headed for the Carneddau. Some stunning views opened up below and I remembered that we were looking at the other end of an old Roman route through the Bwlch y Ddeufaen. We'd explored that a couple of years ago and it was good to see it from this angle, especially the ancient settlement of Dinas, which from any angle, looks suspiciously like a South Wales coal mine bing.

Dinas, from the north west

Dinas and Penmaenmawr from the south east, and the Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen path.

 After a while the path eased up and we arrived on a plateau, where a ruinous concrete building revealed a rusty old machine- a fly-wheel could just be made out behind a fallen wall. In front was a small holding pond and evidence of some leats running towards the structure. Inside there was a modern-ish turbine or impeller while in the other, older compartment of the structure was a victorian three-cylinder pump. I looked at this for a while and came to the tentative conclusion that this must have been for "hushing" the rock faces of spoil, the pump providing a strong pressure jet of water. At this altitude the quarry hardly would have needed to be pumped out.

Who said quarries weren't picturesque?

I forgot to Photoshop out my walking pole, but perhaps it needs a little tribute as I was so glad of it coming down the track again!

After mooching around and looking over the lip of the quarry face, where the wind was strong enough to send you flying backwards, we headed up the hill to a ramshackle range of structures looking as if they had strayed from a Sergio Leone movie. Here, various dire warnings greeted us on signs installed by the quarry company. I guess if I owned the land and was responsible and concerned about litigation, I would put signs up too. I think mine would be worded something like "You're big enough and ugly enough to think for yourselves, so don't come crying to me etc..." I was, however, disappointed that there were no signs featuring the falling man with flared trousers, an omission, I think. These structures here were compressor houses and some smaller buildings that might have been cabans or the like. The larger ones were made of concrete, a material readily to hand on site, while the others, which must have been older, were expertly constructed from Whin Stone, a hard, brittle form of rock which chips sharply and is difficult to build with. It must have overlaid the granite as overburden and used as it was easily to hand.

A very steep incline ran down from this level, the top level of Penmaenmawr- and there was no safe way to access the lower level, where several more interesting structures lay. That would have to wait for another time. Instead, we contented ourselves with the panoramic views from every angle, but especially of the magnificent modern quarry pit. I know that the mountain has been despoiled by the quarry- and that the quarry masters are like some mischievious agent of destruction, obliterating not only the pretty views but also anything of worth archaeologically which gets in the way of making money. I admit to being one of those people who love scenes like this, although I regularly get my fingers burnt when artifacts from an earlier and more colourful quarrying era are destroyed by the very process that fascinates me. C'est la vie.

Having explored the top area, we made our way down again to try the old quarryman's path that clings on a precipitous shelf round the mountain to the floor of the West Quarry. I don't have any particular fear of heights- it's the darkness in a mine that terrifies me, but even I was aware that the exposure here in places was considerable. Definitely not something to try if standing on a chair makes you nervous! Looking at the 1890 maps the path seems to have been the main route for workmen coming from Llanfairfechan, but that it is also joined by a steeper path coming up, I can only assume that these old quarrymen were made of stern stuff. The track has collapsed in several places and sometimes progress can only be made by inching along a very narrow ledge- it's very dangerous, but as I said before, you are big enough etc...just don't say I told you to do it.

 As is always the case, we ran out of time and a description of the other gems the quarry has to offer will have to wait a little longer. Nursing our sore knees down from the quarry, we discovered a couple of footpaths that would have made the whole expedition easier and less time-consuming, but then we wouldn't have met those lovely ponies, or seen the beautiful views across to the Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen. On the way up, the North Wales path should be followed on tarmac until it passes a driveway that meets the road at a dog-leg near Plas Heulog. This isn't marked so that it can be seen from the road- the little footpath marker is only visible when you are nearer to it. (SH69757 74734). I don't think they really want you to use it.

Some of the photos have been converted to mono because I hadn't realised that I'd left my trusty Nikon set at "extra vivid" after an expedition in the rain and gloom to Diffwys. In some of the shots I just couldn't get the colour under control, so apologies for the driechness!

There are several sites on the web that describe the history of the quarry and the mountain, so I won't bore you by repeating the information here. For the interested, they are:

Penmaenmawr History site

Geotopoi on Penmaenmawr Granite Quarries. Several posts on this excellent blog about the quarries and Penmaenmawr.

Another point of view about the quarries - and flying saucers! (keep taking the tablets, guys)  Megalithic Portal

The superb Jaggers Heritage site 

Some more random snaps of our explore:


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Iain. The views from up there are rather splendid, aren't they? I'll look forward to seeing your shots of the de Winton next time you are up that way :-)

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham- yes, I am looking forward to going back ...I've worked out where the De Winton is now and
how to get up there...I think :-)

John Hughes said...

The link to the Penmaenmawr site is invalid.
The circular pond up there used to contain newts, about 20 years ago.
It's also a good area for wild flowers.
I live near Dave Sallery, and know his website well.
I discovered your site while looking for photos of Talacre Lead Mine.
This was just to the east of Gronant village, at 53.335822,-3.356405
Do you know where to get any any old photos of it ?
National Library of Scotland website has old maps, of the time when these places were active. eg. Sheets:- cover Penmaenmawr quarry.

Iain Robinson said...

I've fixed the link now, thanks for pointing that out.

My partner in crime is an expert on wild flowers and did find much to fascinate her around the pond-it's beautiful.

Dave Sallery is the boss- award yourself a chocolate digestive for that :-)

I note that there are abandonment plans of the Talacre mine at Flintshire record office, along with other details but no photos. AditNow has no record either. What I have done in the past is put an advert in the local has been successful with research I'm doing on John Robinson of Talysarn Quarry just now. There might also be a local history group, but I expect you have explored that avenue. Is there anything left on the surface now, or adit remains?

Yes, the Library of Scotland site is brilliant, I did refer to it within the blog- and it has been invaluable with my research on Dorothea.

Anonymous said...

Always a good day when one of your blogs shos up in the reader: thanks for this.

Views like your first picture make me miss the UK...

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. Work and other things have been very busy lately, so limited time for expeditions or blogging...hopefully things will get better :-) Glad you enjoyed the post!

Anonymous said...

I do like your mix of colour and B&W photography. Excellent work and another hugely enjoyable post from your research and explorations.

You seem to be bumping into a lot of horses at the moment. I love horses when there is a wall between us, irrationally scared of them when there isn't. And I am fine on top of them as well!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you very much, Alex. I am delighted you enjoyed the blog post.

As you could tell, I do really love horses...but they are big beasties, I wouldn't blame anyone for having a healthy respect for them. Some years ago we were once surrounded by some small Shetland ponies who, when they realised we didn't have any food, pushed us about like an unruly gang of teenagers! I had to adopt a stern tone :-)

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